Why Travel is an Essential Part of Interior Design


Being a great tourist can make you a better designer

By Angela Ferguson

I never really travelled much until I met my husband in the year 2000.  Up until then I’d only been overseas once, to Thailand. Travel was one of those things that I never really had any money for, let alone had any clue how to actually organise a trip. And travel wasn’t nearly as accessible when I was in my twenties as it is now. 

My husband LOVES travel; he loves the whole planning and organising side of a trip too.  This makes it pretty easy for me to just let him know a few things I’d like to see and/or do then hand over my passport and rest takes care of itself! Travel is not just about having fun though; for me it is an essential part of being a successful designer.

Since we met my husband and I travelled to many destinations all around the world, some of them more than once.  Going overseas is a lot more accessible to a wider demographic these days, with cheaper, shorter flights and the internet making it so easy now to book accommodation and plan ahead.  Over the years I’ve been to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Milan, Rome, Florence, Modena, Venice, London, Denmark, Paris, Bangkok, Canada, Japan, Fiji, Hong Kong, Singapore and China – many of these places I have visited more than once. 

In recent years I have been invited to speak at a number of overseas conferences, and I’ve made the most of these trips by extending them in order to explore the place I am visiting.  The sign of a great trip for me is how much I want to live in the city I’ve just visited – and usually every time I go somewhere I decide I’d like to live there (Copenhagen still tops my list though).

So now I am completely hooked.  I love travelling, going to new cities around the world, understanding the culture, the food, the people, the design, the history.  One thing I really loathe though about travel though is being a ‘tourist’. 

I am not that interested in most of the tourist attractions and I don’t want to feel like an outsider looking in – I really want to immerse myself in the city, to meet like-minded people, to feel like I belong and that the entire world is my oyster. Over the years I have found that the best way I can do this is to treat each trip, each city, like my own personal architecture tour or ‘Design Destination’.

I plan ahead, make contact with galleries, hotel owners, suppliers, manufacturers, designers and architects and arrange to meet up with them when I am in their city.  Usually I will write about who I have met or what I have seen for one of the various design magazines in either print or online, which always helps explain why I want to meet with people.  Most people are pretty accommodating too.  I have found that the tyranny of distance often helps in these situations. As soon as I tell people I am travelling from Australia they are more than happy to meet with me – usually because they can’t believe someone is coming from so far away!

There are 5 main reasons why travel is important as a designer;

1.       Problem solving – different cultures use different tools to solve everyday problems. Seeing new ways of addressing basic human needs can be very provocative for a designer.

2.       Creativity – studies have shown this is directly influenced by travel, not just by getting away from the everyday but also by immersing yourself in the culture you are visiting.

3.       Inspiration – much of my own inspiration comes from travel.  Observing ‘new’ cultures and environments, that are different to my own every day experiences, stimulates the brain to think up new ideas.

4.       Perspective – Australia can have a cultural cringe when it comes to design. This shouldn’t be the case though; our design work is some of the best in the world and travel helps Australian designers realise exactly how good we are.

5.       Taking a break – in the busy 24/7 world we live in its often difficult to escape the everyday and find some time for rest and relaxation. Travel can recharge you in all sort of ways, so that you can bring this renewed energy to your design work.

Australians are great travellers; it seems the fact that we are so far away makes us even more interested in what the rest of the world has to offer.  And perhaps Australian designers are so good at what we do because we are such great travellers.  Seeing the world and being immersed in many cultures informs our creativity and innovation.  With our relatively young built environment we aren’t hindered by hundreds of years of architectural history, so our ideas can remain fresh, uninhibited and unrestricted by the past.  Yet through our connection to the rest of the world, Australian design is stronger and more unique, so that a global perspective informs a local aesthetic and mindset.  I am immensely grateful for all the opportunities I have had to travel over the years; it has broadened both my horizons and what I contribute to the world as a designer.


Emily Carter